Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

When Words Become Tired

with 4 comments

It seems like a lot of words are slaving away in the Azerbaijani language.  In English, we have a lot of idiomatic phrasing, surely.  Maybe because I have to work to learn this language I’m noticing how many idiomatic phrases a language really uses.  The reality here, however you look at it, is that there is a serious group of words here that carry a lot of weight.  For example, the word baş is used all the time.  It can mean head, and is used for your head or, as we also use it in English, when counting head of cattle or sheep.  Beyond that, however, baş can fill in a lot of roles.  For example, baş vermək means to happen, başa düşmək translates to to understand.  Başa düşmək, however is also a good example of the idioms of the language.  It translates directly to “fall to my head.”  There is also the idiom yaddımdan çıxıb, translating to “I forgot”.  But a literal translation gets us “it has left my memory”.

Another big issue some of us are finding is that concepts for which we have many words in English are concepts that garner one word in Azerbaijani.  While I can say great, fantastic, wonderful, excellent, awesome, and more, here I’m really limited to two words, yaxşı and əla, and those are rather limited in scope.

I’m not entirely sure what’s happening here linguistically.  But I think it’s possible to say that Azerbaijani’s use of so many idioms and lack of variety in words is a result of repression of the language during the Soviet period.  Russian became the lingua franca, the business language, and the government language.  Baku especially was a center where Russian was spoken more than Azerbaijani, and it still continues today.  Russian is considered a language of the elites, whereas Azerbaijani is considered less so.  It’s the language of the peasants, the lower class.  Therefore, the Azerbaijani language suffers from a lack of development, having to rely on mixing and matching words to get a certain menaing, instead of having a word that requires no idiomatic phrasing.  I haven’t been to Turkey yet, but I’m told that the Turkish language has far more word variety and less idiomatic phrasing.  They regularly use unutmaq (unutmak) for “to forget” instead of the Azeri phrasing.  Instead of having been repressed by another language, reducing it’s level of development, Turkish has continued to develop and keep in use many words that have fallen out of use in Azeri.


Written by Aaron

June 4, 2010 at 3:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Hey Aaron,

    Would you mind if I disagree with you?
    It is true that English is richer as a language than Azeri. Specifically, in terms of words that express scientific concepts. For example, I cannot find equivalent of the word conceptuality in Azeri. Serendipity is another word whose direct and precise translation into Azeri is difficult to find. It can be translated as “bəxti gətirmək” but serendipity is slightly different from the verb “bəxti gətirmək”.
    Nevertheless, I would disagree with two points in your post 1) idioms or phrases denote some kind of weakness or less developed stage of language – if I understood you correctly, this is one of your arguments. 2) the Soviets suppressed the use of Azeri and the less developed form is outcome of that suppression.
    Azeri, like Persian, Biblical Hebrew, and Koine Greek is heavily relies on idioms, phrases in order to express lots of stuff. Persians did not experience Soviet ideology. Neither ancient Hebrews or Greeks did. It is a quality of some languages and it existed throughout history. So, I don’t think there is connection between Soviet influence and intense use of phrases or idioms. Also, extensive use of phrases and idioms should not be seen as weakness. What is the reason of privileging less idiomatic language over against more idiomatic one, if we exclude suppression factor as explanation?
    It is also true that under Soviet rule Russian considered to be privileged language. But it is not true that Soviets actively discouraged the use of local languages. The situation was far more complex and ambiguous. If anything, codification of new literary language and norms, decline of Persian-Arabic vocabulary in Azeri, development of linguistic studies and active study of Azeri in universities happened to transpire during the Soviet rule. Compare that to development of Azeri in South Azerbaijan, a part of Iran, or ask a knowledgeable person and you will see the difference.
    On another note, you may want to pay more attention or actually go to other sources rather than asking people around you about words whose equivalent you cannot find in Azeri. Especially, those words like awesome, fantastic, wonderful, etc. have equivalents but either people around you don’t know or they simply don’t use them, because many of them considered to be literary lingo of bookish people. Ask them meanings of diqqətəşayan, heyrətamiz, əsrarəngiz, gözəgəlimli, məftunedici, ovsunlayıcı,füsunkar, ecazkar etc.
    Last (but not least) thing to take into account is relationship between everyday language and more nuanced literary language. In Azeri there is a great gap in between of those two.

    Movie-ing Maniac

    June 8, 2010 at 4:21 am

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